Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The atrocities of liberal capitalism

I'm sure you've heard it all before, but I have a lurid and promiscuous fascination with perverts in tenured (and other difficult-to-attain) positions in the Academy. So I quote

Brennan, who teaches comparative literature and English at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, asserts that while "the crimes committed in the name of communism are real," they are "certainly no match for the atrocities launched by liberal capitalism, which, far from being officially acknowledged, are completely disavowed or excused."
From an article on called 'The collapse of reason'.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Battle Hymn of the Republic

My wife and I spent our honeymoon on the Isle of Mull. As we tramped about that beautiful place, we sang. And one of the songs we sang was The Battle Hymn of the Republic. I had first heard it (I mean really heard it) in Melbourne; a friend of mine going through his landlady's albums happened upon one by Odetta. He insisted I listen. She sang it with a martial force that I remember to this day, though I only heard it a couple of times. It got into my soul, so to speak.

Not that I could remember all the words several years later on Mull. We were walking through a pretty little valley and had not seen a face for hours. Then, through the trees, we glimpsed a chapel, set inside a picket fence, and so we stepped onto its porch, put a hand to the door, and it opened. I don't recall the interior of the chapel, but I do recall my wife calling to me in a whisper, "Come and look". She was holding a hymnal open at The Battle Hymn of the Republic. We memorised the words together. And gave voice to it for some time after.

Some years later it was a staple bedtime song for a baby that wouldn't go to sleep. Maybe the wrong song. I know of nothing more exhilirating than this verse:

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet;
Our God is marching on.
Be jubilant, my feet! Julia Ward Howe uses King James rhetoric throughout, but it seems to me as fresh now as when I first heard it. The complete text is here. Mark Steyn has a piece on it here (scroll down, but it's worth reading the introduction as well). For the latter, thanks is due to Ninme.

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Netherlands - sad

This article by Paul Belien of The Brussels Journal begins with one those anniversary notes with accompanying historical parallel that can so sway a mind clutching for certainties. Of course, that is not to say that the lesson drawn in not always pertinent.

553 years ago today, on 29 May 1453, the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II conquered Constantinople. The Byzantine Empire had been in decline for decades and the fall was inevitable. Some had tried to turn the tide. In 1374, when the Ottomans were only a nascent power, Prince Manuel, governor of Salonica and a son of the Byzantine Emperor, had tried to rally the inhabitants of his city against the Turks. But the Salonicans did not want to bear the high costs of defending their city and promptly threw him out. Out of fear of the Turks his father, Emperor John V, refused Manuel shelter within the walls of Constantinople and so did all the other Byzantine cities. Consequently the prince was forced to seek refuge with... the Ottomans, whom he served until 1394, when he became Emperor himself.
He also gives us a rather depressing statistic.
Last year a record number of 121,000 people emigrated from the Netherlands, the largest number ever, while only 92,000 immigrated in... The numbers are rising. In the first quarter of this year 29,000 people left the Netherlands – 5,000 more than in the same period last year.
(67% of 2004 figure were European; 43% were Dutch. Figures from here.)

Emigration has been rising steadily since 1985, but in the last five years has soared. The Netherlands is now the only country in Western Europe where emigrants outnumber immigrants. (Poland and Lithuania are also in the red, but that is clearly an economic issue; hardly the case in Holland.) The majority are in their twenties and thirties. There is surely something significant going on here. Of course I am only speculating, but could this not also be a consequence of multi-culturalism?

Even though the Netherlands has the highest proportion of immigrants of any country in Europe, I don't think it is the number that is important. The US has absorbed far greater proportions, but the US has always maintained its specific identity - if you live there, you know what country you 'belong to', and you know that its laws apply to you exactly as they apply to a 5th generation yankee. Is this the case in the Netherlands? Ayaan Hirsi Ali would say not. It may well be that the identity of the country itself has been compromised, the sense of belonging strained, the links that bind loosened. Belien quotes Ataturk
Nations who do not know their national identity will become the prey of other nations.
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Monday, May 29, 2006

Christoph Luxenberg - The philology of the Koran

In a post earlier this month about a speech by Cardinal George Pell, I quoted a passage concerning Christoph Luxenberg's philological studies of the Koran. Pell, in referring to Luxenburg's book, says that Arabic did not assume written form until 150 years after [Mohamad's] death. He then outlines the book's thesis that the Koran was first written down in a dialect of Syriac, and that many both questionable and indecipherable passages of the Koran were simply mistranslations of the original Syriac. The one that achieved some notoriety was the promise of 72 maidens in Heaven, 'maidens' that in the original had been 'grapes'.

I wanted to check this out a little further, and (thanks to ParaPundit) came across a review from Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies. It is a dense philological summary of a dense philological work. I have excerpted some passages concerning the thesis of the earlier Syriac version of the Koran, a claim seemingly confirmed by the word 'koran' itself.

Section nine discusses the proposition, which the Qur’ān itself asserts and which is a basic element of Islam, that the Qur’ān was revealed in Arabic. In particular, the proposition that the origin of the Qur’ān, the umm kitāb (lit. “mother of [the] book”), is in heaven or with God and is the direct and immediate pre-image of the Arabic text presents the strongest dogmatic challenge to Luxenberg’s assertion that the Arabic of the Qur’ān is in large measure not Arabic at all, at least not in the sense the Arabian commentators understood it. The language of the Qur’ān is the Arabic dialect of the tribe of Muhammad, the Quraysh, who were located in Mecca. This does not rule out the possibility that this dialect was heavily influenced by Aramaic, and Syriac in particular. Luxenberg maintains that the Islamic tradition alludes to such an influence...

Luxenberg proceeds in section ten to the heart of the matter: an analysis of the word “Qur’ān.” He sets out the argument that qur’ān derives from the Syriac qeryānā, a technical term from the Christian liturgy that means "lectionary," the fixed biblical readings used at the Divine Liturgy throughout the year...

The section concludes by demonstrating that the technical meaning of "lectionary" is preserved in the word qur’ān...

If quryān means “lectionary,” and if the text itself claims to be a clarification of an earlier text, then that earlier text must be written in another language. The only candidate is the Old and New Testament in Syriac, the Peshitta.
The reviewers speak of "the sober revolution this book will no doubt create", and I can't make out if they are using the word "sober" ironically or not. In any case, there seems to be no sign as yet of the English translation. I wonder whether this is the result of a "sober" consideration of the consequences of publication.

There's an interview with Christoph Luxenberg here. For a survey of other revisionist theories about the origins of Islam, see this article.

(via ParaPundit)

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Tony Blair's vision of a world order

Some excerpts from Tony Blair's speech at Georgetown University on 26 May.

On Iraq, change, terrorism, Iran and a JFK moment.

This is a child of democracy struggling to be born. They and we, the international community, are the midwives.
You may not agree with original decision.
You may believe mistakes have been made.
You may even think how can it be worth the sacrifice.
But surely we must all accept this is a genuine attempt to run the race of liberty.
These are not stooges. Or placemen.
They believe in their country.
They believe in its capacity to be democratic.
They are fighting a struggle against the odds but they are fighting it.
And in their struggle is a symbol of a wider struggle.
Listen to what the new Prime Minister says and the new Government's programme.
Tell me where their vision differs from ours except that ours is based in experience and theirs in hope.

No amount of institutional change will ever work unless the most powerful make it work. ... That is the reality of power; size; economic, military, political weight.

The answer to terrorism is the universal application of global values. The answer to poverty is the same. Without progress - in democracy and in prosperity - security is at risk. Without security, progress falters.

There was a moving moment when I was talking to the new Prime Minister in his office in Baghdad that he told me, with a smile, used to be the dining room of one of Saddam's sons. We were on our own with the interpreter. He leant across to me and said: "if we can change Iraq we can change this region and the world".

I don't believe we will be secure unless Iran changes. I emphasise I am not saying, we should impose change. I am simply saying the greater freedom and democracy which, I have no doubt, most Iranians want, is something we need. There is a choice being played out in the region: to be partners with the wider world; or to be defined in opposition to it. If Iran leads the latter camp, the results will be felt by us all.

But country by country, in every way we can, with every means we can properly deploy, the international community should be the champions of those who want change there. And wherever those who strive for that freedom are in danger, we should be at their side.
Norm is bullish
if the UN therefore fails to intervene effectively in 'conscience-shocking situations', then 'concerned states may not rule out other means to meet the gravity and urgency' of these situations.
Martin Kettle thinks Blair's fight is already lost, that the US is going to retreat a little into its shell to the detriment of all.
Just as American foreign policy spent a quarter of a century in the grip of a Vietnam syndrome - that no intervention was worth the cost in American lives sustained in south-east Asia - so now it must face the reality of an equivalent Iraq syndrome: that no intervention is worth the cost in prestige and danger that the war in the Gulf has brought.
It is indeed difficult to see a United Nations doing the job that Blair lays out for it. More likely, I fear, is a stalemate with the US unwilling to act, the UN unable, and the rest whining about both.

(via Norm)

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Critical Mass

One of the few authors not mentioned in Philip Ball's Critical Mass is Isaac Asimov. However, it was in his Foundation Trilogy that I first came across the thesis that animates Ball's book and the occupies many of the finest minds of today: that given a statistical sample large enough, you can not only understand but even predict the behaviour of large groups of people. Now Asimov went just a touch further; in his version, the fate of the galaxy and its thousands of planets was forecast over a stretch of centuries. Ball's ambitions are more modest.

It is a fascinating intellectual journey, this birth of the new science of Social Physics. As the name implies, it is the attempt to understand social phenomena by means of techniques and concepts more usually employed in Physics. One of the most important of these concepts is that group, or mass behaviour cannot always be understood or predicted by 'scaling up' the individual. As readers of Elias Canetti's Crowds and Power will recall, the pack obeys the laws of the pack, an organism in which the multiplicity of individual desires is subsumed into a simpler and more predictable paradigm. So too here. Physicists long ago abandoned the attempt to understand the behaviour of a gas by calculating the movements of individual molecules and concentrated rather on averages in the movement of millions. Now that the required huge numbers can be studied in human affairs, here as well the picture is simpler and more comprehensible than had once seemed possible.

There are new concepts aplenty for the neophyte: phase transitions, self-organising patterns, scale-free networks and power laws. That last one is less and more intimidating than it sounds. It is a mathematical term that concerns the relationship between two numbers. Each time one of the numbers is doubled, for example, the other number will increase by a fixed rate, which may be 4 times its value, or 8, or 16. This is of importance because these power law values are found everywhere; in nature, at the critical point of transition between a gas and a liquid, and in human affairs, such as market fluctuations and the size of companies. It means that you don't have a nice even rate of increase. No, the largest companies are vastly bigger than the next largest. Plotted on a graph, the closer you get to the top, the more vertical is the line. It seems to be the same with wealth. Here, too, the richest are almost infinitely richer than those just behind them in the rankings. Furthermore, it seems to be have been as true 3,500 years ago in Egypt as it is now. You will recognise Pareto's Law here, that 80% of the wealth will be held by 20% of the population, proportions that seem to remain constant in different types of economies as well as in different epochs. Here you face the great question: is this how it was 'meant to be'? Ball, when he talks about politics, is rather wishy-washy and doesn't try to give a definitive answer, apart from pointing out that we must differentiate clearly between what is, and what possibilities there are to change that. Very sensible, but not very helpful.

That last example will give you some idea of how explosive some of this number-crunching may become. There's a lot of it here, as well as innumerable models and graphs. It may get a bit much (it did for me). However, I know that this will be a book to return to as one of the many topics it covers pops into the news. Its range is vast, and the potential of the studies it dips into has been barely tapped.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Radical redemption

George Galloway hadn't been in the papers for a while, or had reporters cosying up to him, so it had to be only a matter of time. The assassination of Tony Blair "would be entirely logical and explicable, and morally equivalent to ordering the deaths of thousands of innocent people in Iraq as Blair did." I can't believe that anyone is truly surprised that he thinks this, or, given his need for the cameras, that he would say it. In any case, the people in whose cause he claims to speak certainly think like that, and come from places where political violence is the source of authority and sovereignty. In this country, where it is not, of course there has to be a loud outcry against even saying such things; it's part of keeping the place relatively decent. But even here you don't have to go far to hear it being said with a little more discretion. The rhetoric of death is normal discourse for certain groups. David T over at Harry's Place talks of a "sort of personality that is attracted to extreme politics" and that joins groups like the SWP/RESPECT or the BNP because they

provide a context for the "legitimate" expression of hatred, violence and bile ... aggressive, macho and grandstanding rhetoric, which has a kind of quasi-pornographic appeal to them.
There's even more to it: the heroism of the role of Defender of the Weak, the David and Goliath scene-making, the Robin Hood romanticism, the irresistible allure of righteousness, of turning all that is wrong into right. David T points to an article in the Times in which Theodore Dalrymple looks at the phenomenon of radicalism from a more fundamental point of view.
I take it as axiomatic first that human existence is always to some extent unsatisfactory, and second by that most, or at least many, men desire transcendence in the sense that they want their lives to have some larger purpose than the flux of day-to-day existence. Shopping and going to the pub are all very well in their way, but for people of larger spirit they are not enough.

Radical politics answers the need for transcendence and provides a plausible, though erroneous, explanation for the existential shortcomings of human existence. It kills two birds with one stone. It gives a transcendent purpose to life, by allowing participants the illusion that they are helping to bring about a life that is completely without dissatisfaction.

The religiosity of Marxists has long been remarked by the non-believers, the doctrine of Marxism being that history has a plan for the redemption of mankind.
I think he has put it into exactly the right context: religion. "I take it as axiomatic first that human existence is always to some extent unsatisfactory." Original Sin is laughed off as silly by most thinking people (expecially the ones who haven't had kids) - but as a doctrine it put a limit on human capabilities, one that crippled from the start any impulse towards Utopia. Then, "men desire transcendence", ie a part in a greater story. What greater story is there than redemption? While this religious idea was confined to the relationship between an individual and his God, the damage it could inflict upon society was generally limited to his immediate surroundings. But Marxism took the "unsatisfactory" in life to be solely the result of immediate circumstances and specific relations, ones that changed over time, and could be changed by the action of people. And redemption for all was no longer to be continually postponed and to occur somewhere else, but was coming and could be hurried on its way. Thus, the disasters we all know about. Thus, a way of thinking, an intellectual pathology that has been with us at least since the French Revolution, and that gathers all of those who cannot be content with the limits inside which we live.

Like Dalrymple, I too thought that the fall of the Wall would be the end of the pathology of revolution, that the immunisation of the West (for it is a Western desease) had finally taken effect. Nope. It just moved on. Of course, we still have clowns like George Galloway, but the mutated and more virulent strain has gone abroad, though it certainly wants to come home again dressed in the flowing robes of the prophets and sporting an excess of growth on the face. Mind, Marx had that, too.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

The world out there

Peregrine falcons in Harrisburg, PA On the occasion of my 300th post. Can't fly yet, but look at the world out there!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Leopard

The Leopard is a strange novel. It was the only book written and published by Giovanni Tomasi di Lampedusa, last scion of a decadent Sicilian noble family. He wrote it towards the end of an indolent life and didn't live to see it brought into the world by the publishing house, Feltrinelli. It doesn't have a plot; to recount what happens would make it sound like a biography leavened with social history. It is a book about an aristocrat by an aristocrat recalling the passing of an age of aristocracy, and yet one that would have made a lot of sense to the Marxist literary culture of 1950s Italy. Its outlook is one of weary disillusionment that holds out little hope of social improvement or even personal contentment. It sounds dreadfully depressing, doesn't it? Lampedusa himself said once, "It is, I fear, rubbish." Actually, it is neither.

At its heart, there is one character: Fabrizio Corbero, Prince of Salina, The Leopard. It is in the portrayal of this man, and through his eyes, that of Sicily and its people that the quality of The Leopard lies. Lampedusa's eye is very sharp and sensitive to the smallest fluctuations of mood and motive, to the currents of history that pass through, or by, the characters and to the contradictions that sit comfortably together in every moment. One example of many. Salina is out hunting with the parish priest and they bring down a rabbit. They are out of sight of any human habitation in a land that would have looked the same to the Phoenicians, Dorians and Ionians 2,000 years before. The two hunters approach the fatally wounded prey and Don Fabrizio is fixed upon by

eyes that showed no reproof, but were full of a stunned shock towards the whole order of things ... the animal was dying tortured by an anxious hope of salvation, imagining its escape when it was already done for, just like so many men...a shiver went through the small body and it died; Don Fabrizio and Tumeo had had their sport; the first had even felt, in addition to the thrill of killing, the comfort of compassion.
In the space of two paragraphs, one incident and a meeting of eyes, Lampedusa is able compress the relationship of a landscape to its inhabitants, the reactions of men to history, the smallness of individual lives, and yet also the greatness of one life passing and the contradictory feelings of those who have caused it to pass.

You will have also noticed that he also does a mean one-liner. It is in this book that a character (Tancredi, Fabrizio's nephew and protégé) explains why he is supporting the 'revolution' in this way: If we want everything to stay the same, everything must change. ("Se vogliamo che tutto rimanga come è, bisogna che tutto cambi.") It should not be thought that it is merely a taste for paradox that inspires him. It is entirely right that Tancredi should say this in 1860, however inexact it turns out to be. There's another nice moment when the Salina family make their annual visit to their distant property of Donnafuagata. The arrival is governed by immemorial custom, a great comfort to Don Fabrizio, who nevertheless, in the spirit of the New Age, is the one to step outside the prescribed roles, and announce that "after dinner, we'll be happy to see all our friends". The town talked for many days about this unprecedented cordiality, but "from that moment, imperceptibly, began the decline of his prestige."

There is mush else in The Leopard: a love story combining cynicism, class survival and pure eroticism; a country tale involving Salina's 'house priest', the Jesuit Father Pirrone and his family; the frustrated lives of the daughters of the house; the rising middle classes. Each chapter is devoted to a day or couple of weeks stretching from June 1860 to 1910 - from the exploits of Garibaldi and the Thousand to last days of the spinster daughters and the fiftieth anniversary of the establisment of the Kingdom of Italy. Though there are lapses, particularly when the author gives way to the social theorist and delivers lectures on the qualities of the Sicilians and its aristocracy, the quality of vision that Lampedusa's writing grants to the reader makes this book one of the 20th Century masterpieces of Italian literature.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Multiculturalism and welfare

Casting off the gloom of the post below, Australia (once again) is moving to uphold some of the aforementioned Enlightenment principles after decades of neglect.

Aboriginal offenders [will] no longer be able to "hide behind" customary law to get reduced sentences for violent crimes under a proposal to crack down on rampant physical and sexual abuse in indigenous communities.

Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough will put a plan to scrap consideration of cultural law as a mitigating factor in serious crimes to state and territory governments at a national summit.
The case that has brought this to the boil concerned an Aboriginal elder in the Northern Territory, 55 years old, who 'bashed' and had anal intercourse with a 14-year-old schoolgirl promised to him as a wife. Tried and convicted, he was able to plead the rights granted him by "customary law" to "teach the girl to obey him"; these arguments persuaded the judge to pass a sentence of one month. (It was later increased on appeal to 3 years following a public outcry.)

The Australian newspapers are full of such cases of aboriginal child abuse at the moment. Keith Windschuttle lays the blame squarely on federal (state) policies that, through welfare payments, removed the need for the male to provide for his family.
Men who do not work have no social status, no sense of self-worth and little meaning in their lives. Others think badly of them and they think badly of themselves.
This was part of a programme that sought to get aborigines out of the cities, away from capitalism and allow them to achieve "sustainable development, stable populations, limited-growth economies and an emphasis on small scale and self-reliance". It has done quite the opposite, in no small part because it was directed from above more or less as in Uncle Joe's USSR.

(via Ninme)

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Neither Left, nor Right; neither up nor down

David Aaronovitch writes about the crumbling of the old division between Left and Right and of how those two terms only confuse when applied to the Political Parties that used to embody them.

On the Left.

... it used to be about the future and how to improve the lot of humankind. Not any more. Liberation has been replaced as the key concept by Resistance. The word reproduces itself through modern left literature, like a Sylvanian family on fertility drugs. Globalisation is to be resisted, as is neoliberalism (flexible labour markets, movement of capital etc) as is neoconservatism. Tesco mini-stores are to be resisted, as are the Americans in Iraq. It is emblematic of that change that the Palestine Liberation Organisation is no longer the organisation of choice for fashionable leftists, having been replaced by the Islamic Resistance, better known as Hamas. And the new heroes aren’t those creating new societies, but those nationalists, like the populist Venezuelan, Hugo Chávez, who put two fingers up at the composite enemy, Bushanblair.
Meanwhile over the fence.
That there is sharp division on what was once called the Right is illustrated by recent events in America. George Bush wants an amnesty for 12 million or so illegal immigrants and is being fought all the way by Republicans who believe that the country is full. Bush is comfortable with a company from the United Arab Emirates running some more American ports, but many Republicans oppose him on “security grounds”. They too seek common cause with sections of the Left over “ outsourcing” — otherwise known as the bloody cheek that these foreigners have in competing with us. So-called palaeoconservatives want out of Iraq, out of Afghanistan, out of everywhere and bring up the drawbridge.
He would prefer the terms Progressive and Reactionary (though I can't see many rushing to put a patent on the latter).

Progressives he characterises thus:
Progressives, who exist in most parties, tend to believe that there are no walls that can keep the rest of the world out, and that it is counterproductive — immoral even — to try. We tend to believe in interdependence, and that what happens on the other side of the globe is our affair. We tend to believe in the open exchange of capital, ideas and people. We tend to believe — as India proves — that liberal democracy is not some kind of Western model that cannot be exported, but the best way of allowing human beings a say in their own government. We tend to believe in progress towards a fulfilling and equal existence for men and women, without arbitrary barriers. We tend to believe that scientific and technical progress can usually be harnessed for the benefit of humankind.
Reactionaries are those wanting
higher walls, greener grass and no foreign entanglements
David Aaronovitch doesn't appear to be a signatory of the Euston Manifesto, though to judge from his own declaration of faith, he isn't too distant from it. Like the Manifesto, he reasserts Enlightenment aims, though that 'we tend to believe in' is hardly a clarion call. These tentative declarations strike the tone of the day. Hardly surprising when you consider on how many fronts they are attacked. From the Old Left and the Islamofascists, as cultural imperialism; from the New Right, for their exclusion of God. But perhaps more importantly, from within many of those who declare themselves political supporters, because even in societies founded on these principles, we seem unable to defend and live by them. They were principles founded on self-reliance and distrust of government, yet even in the United States, government just gets bigger and bigger, and people seem more and more to look to government to 'solve their problems', protect their jobs and keep them cosy and warm. The very ones who dress their speeches in the trappings of self-reliance and small government have overseen the biggest increases in public spending since the War. The confusion of political labels matches the confusion in our own heads about what we want and what we are willing to pay for it.

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Monday, May 22, 2006

The air of freedom

I don't remember where I read this story or when. I only know it was many years ago and that it has stayed with me.

During the Korean War, an American serviceman (a pilot, I think) was captured by the North Koreans or Chinese. They set about breaking him. I don't think violence was used, or if it was, it was not the principle weapon. This was an ideological battle - they were going to convert him to Marxism, or Leninism. They were going to convert him to a set of certainties that put him and his country and culture in the losing corner, and the Workers' Army of North Korea, or China in the winner's. He was going to accept his small part in the inevitable and triumphal march of the proletariat.

It went on for months. They were good. Their English was excellent and their knowledge of history, if partial, was enough to furnish example after example all tending to the same conclusion. He was, of course, alone and without any other relationship except for that with his captors. He began to weaken. And one day, he weakened enough that they announced they would reward him. He could make a request. He did. He asked for a book. In English.

A few hours later they threw the book into his cell. It was the only one they could find, they said. He leapt on it; opened it and read the title. Treasure Island. And from the moment he started reading, they had lost the battle.

All I remember of his reconstruction of the event is that he smelt the air of freedom among those pages, and that it made him impregnable.

I remembered this story reading today's Daily Telegraph. Antony Sher has a piece in which his memories of his mother's hospitalisation colour those of a ceremony at which Sonny Venkathrathnam presented a copy of Shakespeare's complete works that, in the early seventies, had been smuggled into the Robben Island prison in the guise of a Hindu prayer book. Only religious books were allowed, and so this one did the rounds of the cells. Many prisoners marked, signed and dated a passage. Nelson Mandela bracketed this one (and dated it 16.12.79):

Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.
I would like to link to the article by Antony Sher, but it is not available (at least for now).

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China's banking problems not as stated

On the 10th of May, I posted about China sailing into dire straits because of the amount of NPLs (Non-Performing Loans) its major banks had on their books. I based what I said on a report published by Ernst and Young which claimed that the total of bad loans was as high as $900 billion. This added a very authoritative voice to a buzz of concern about financial practice in China and seemed to agur ill for them, and consequently, us.

Not so. The authoritative voice of Ernst and Young is now squeeking apologies to all and sundry for a report that

had included unverified forecast data compiled by others as if it were historic information.
Ernst & Young said it did not wish to comment further on the specific errors it had made as it had "no desire to make this embarrassing situation even worse."
Byzantine Ruins

Actually, Dan Harris of China Law Blog informed me of this on the 15th of this month. I thought I had posted a correction, but now that I have checked, I see that I hadn't. I had only replied to his comment. For which, my apologies.

Mr Harris has kindly written again to tell me that he has obtained a copy of the report and has posted it here.

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Sunday, May 21, 2006

Where does it lead?

Lindow Common
I don't know about you but I find photos like this extremely inducive to daydreaming. It's the unanswered question: where does the path lead? What's just around the bend?

That is the direct unknown, the question that, if we were walking along this path, we would answer by walking on. The perspective leads the eye just as surely as does the path towards the centre of the picture.

Then there are the indirect unknowns; to the left and right of the path. How deep is the forest? The trees that border the path, and are thus navigational aids, also hide the rest of the forest. To dramatise the point, flip the picture 90° so that the trees on the left are above and those on the right below. It is as if you were in an underground tunnel. Now how much earth is above you, pressing down? How far back up would you have to go to get out?

It is perhaps a sign of lack of emotional development that such images evoke in me the possibilities of journeys, like Frodo setting off across and out of the Shire for the first time. Yet it is 'art'. It requires a shutting off, or a resolution not to look away, or behind. When you read a book, you close off the other parts of your life. This photo doesn't allow you to see to the right and left. If you could, you would not be able to deny the existence of a fence to the right, and a vast flattened peat farm to the left. But if you agree to abide by, stay within the closed view of a picture, or a book, you are rewarded in ways that are rarely found elsewhere. Is it truth through deception or concentration?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Beethoven's Seventh - Vitality con brio

I've been listening to Beethoven's Seventh (Carlos Kleiber and the Vienna Philharmonic). The fourth movement is the piece of music that has always made me (in my mind) dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free. It is the music of exhilaration, of (almost) uncontainable vitality without a shadow of disquietitude. Beethoven could depict two or even three emotions at the same time, but he could also blast you with the primary colours of a single intense feeling. Here it is a vitality that never loses its poise; that grows to a fullness and shapes the silence that follows.

Friday, May 19, 2006

It's all our fault

Norm reproduces virtually the same as what you see below. It is from a review of Le Livre noir de Saddam Hussein in The Weekly Standard. I want to put this here for my own sake, just to help me in time of need, for whenever I flail about for want of a sense of proportion.

Over and over again, perceived abuses by Western societies--colonialism, the Vietnam war--are revisited in conversation and thought until they are part of our mental furniture. What happens to the crimes of others is very different. Some of them get sucked down the memory hole. Those of us of a certain age remember that the very independent Idi Amin was far worse, but it is Joseph Mobutu--portrayed as a U.S. ally, if not puppet--who has emerged as the durable symbol of abusive African rule.

More often, crimes committed by non-Westerners are blamed on Westerners. As in: America provided Saddam with chemical weapons; Palestinians mimic Israeli brutality; the Khmer Rouge was driven to madness by U.S. bombing. It was Belgian colonialism that taught Rwandan Hutu génocidaires to be tribal and to kill. And the CIA created Osama bin Laden, while U.S. excesses created his followers.

The soft bigotry here is not of low expectations but of no expectations. This suggests that only Westerners have moral agency. To deny a person the capacity to initiate evil is to deny them the capacity to initiate good, or anything in between.

The result is a vicious cycle in which many educated people engage easily with the storylines they already know, and are unsure what to do with the unfamiliar. Most infamously, members of the world's intellectual and journalistic classes have a habit of not denying Communist atrocities but of knowing almost no details about them and never volunteering the topic.

Let's not even bother with the Great Terror and the Ukrainian famine and, instead, go straight to something recent. Ask yourself: When was the last time you saw, read, or heard anyone discussing the estimated one million civilians killed during the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan during 1979-89? People old enough to have lived through that aren't reminded of it. And younger ones have almost no opportunity to learn about it. Such acts of forgetting are why the Black Book of Communism was still needed so many years after Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and why the tales it told were greeted as foreign all over again.

Iraq is not an exception. Intellectual imaginations immediately grasp the importance of the widely covered website "Iraq Body Count," tabulating Iraqi civilians reported killed after the 2003 overthrow of Saddam. But the researcher-activists who created that site don't run a similar count of Iraqis killed by Saddam before April 2003, or one of bodies as they emerge from his mass graves, and they can't even be bothered to link to neglected websites publicizing those graves, such as and the austerely powerful (and graphic)

In the same spirit, institutions as diverse as Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, the University of California at Santa Cruz, Bryn Mawr and Amherst colleges, and Florida State University have already offered courses that discuss Abu Ghraib as a place where U.S. soldiers committed abuses, not as a place in which Saddam's secret police tortured thousands to death.
(via Norm)

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Not our fight

From the Wall Street Journal, a very good summary of the Ayaan Hirsi Ali story.

As she packs her bags to head across the Atlantic, others have done, or are about to do the same.

Across Europe, dozens of people are now in hiding or under police protection because of threats from Muslim extremists. Dutch police say politicians reported 121 death threats last year. The number this year will likely be much higher. Geert Wilders, a right-wing member of parliament who also lives in a high-security apartment owned by the state, says he has received 120 menacing emails and letters since January. One of the latest reads: "Oh you cursed infidel! Don't think you are safe from our mighty organization....It is our wish to kill you by decapitation. Your infidel blood will flow freely on cursed Dutch streets!"

In Germany, several researchers, journalists and members of Parliament receive police protection because of threats by radical Muslims. Hans-Peter Raddatz, an Islamic-studies expert under police protection, recently moved to the U.S.

Flemming Rose, the culture editor of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, is also mulling a move to America, at the urging of friends and security contacts. He set off a global storm by publishing cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. Twelve Danish cartoonists who drew the caricatures are staying out of public for fear of attack.
While the best go west, the rest ... hunker down in their bunkers. This is the kind of victory the Jihadists dream of. She's been cast out by the very culture she was seeking to defend. This next is the worst story I've come across in this affair.
News of Ms. Hirsi Ali's arrival [in the apartment] spread. Dick van Tetterode, a retired doctor who lives in an adjacent building, says he worried briefly about bombs, but decided he'd probably lose only his windows.

During a slow afternoon stroll outside Ms. Hirsi Ali's building, the 84-year-old doctor reflected on her predicament and on his own flight from the Nazis during World War II. A student at the time, he spent two years hiding on a Dutch farm. Two of the three people he credits with saving his life were killed by the Germans. Struggling to hold back tears, he says he regrets never thanking their children properly for their fathers' bravery.

But Ms. Hirsi Ali's case is different, he says. He admires her conviction, he says, but thinks her rage at Islam belongs in the Middle East and Africa, not the Netherlands. "This is not our fight," he says.

Who did what and why during World War II are still touchy questions here. Holland deported 78% of its Jews -- the highest proportion in Western Europe.
"This is not our fight"; "he regrets never thanking their children properly". When I told my wife the story of the eviction, she just said, "Ann Frank". Hirsi Ali was undiplomatic enough to evoke the same memories:
"My neighbors seem to confirm the critical view that very few Dutch people were brave enough" during the Nazi occupation.
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Hail Enid Blyton

It must have been sometime after the publication in 1997 of The Subtle Knife, the second of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, that I first heard about these wonderful books. I remember exactly where I was (driving along a curlicue of a road between here and Bollington), and what I was doing (listening to Radio 4, an interview with 4 children's writers). One of the guests on the program described the first book of the trilogy, Northern Lights, and I recall the certainty I felt that I would love it. I can even picture which of the innumerable bends on that road I was on. I did love it; likewise the second, and then had to wait an inordinate time for the third.

During that same programme, the interviewer asked the assembled writers about their first (reading) love. To a man and woman, it was Enid Blyton. (Are you surprised? I wasn't.) One of the writers said that he hadn't read her since, to which another piped up, 'Oh, don't. She's truly awful'. I can't remember if this judgement was delivered on ideological or stylistic grounds, though many others have made it on both. I also remember a campaign to have her banned from public libraries for her racism, or sexism, or both. Happily, the campaign failed. According to Cassandra Jardine in The Telegraph,

Even now, two million copies of her books are sold every year in Britain, Australia and India alone - the latter somewhat mitigating the idea that her narrow, all-white world is accessible only to others who come from Fifties Britain. She remains in the top 10 of most borrowed authors, which suggests that, when children choose for themselves from libraries, they pick Blyton.
I have read her since childhood, to three children of my own. I confess that I don't get the same pleasure from reading her aloud as I do from Pullman, for example, or RL Stevenson, but the effect on my children is the same as it has been on so many others for the last 60 or so years. She does the job.

What do children want from stories? To learn to celebrate diversity, to see through the bars of a male-dominated world the broad vistas of sexual equality in the next valley, or even their little world of broken marriage and economic deprivation elevated to art? The hell they do. They want adventure because at 4, 10 and 14, adventure is always lurking over the next rise. They want heroism because they believe themselves capable of it, and want to practise it in their heads. They want evil to face, because they need to exercise their developing goodness muscles.

This Enid Blyton gives them. When do adventures happen? When you go on holiday, when you go somewhere new, just like the Famous Five. When is heroism required? When you follow your nose and ask questions, as the Famous Five do. How do you recognise evil? It doesn't follow the rules of good behaviour so successfully taught to the Famous Five. Blyton builds a world immediately recognisable to any child, introduces a threat to it, and sets the children to face and defeat that threat. Her narrow world fits snugly into that of most children, especially the happy ones. Because it is a little world, little people feel at home there. Children enthralled by the Famous Five will be ready one day for His Dark Materials, a far bigger world, but one that satisfies the same needs. Enid Blyton gives the first taste of the excitement and consolation of literature, and deserves acknowledgement and gratitude for doing so.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Homoousios or homoiousios?

Boris Johnson says that Dan Brown has resurrected the oldest controversy in Christianity, the nature of Jesus (homoousios or homoiousios? - see below), and that's why the Catholic Church is so touchy.

If he was a god, how come he died? And if he was a man, how did he rise from the dead? From the very beginning of Christianity, there were Gnostics, who contested the full divinity of Christ, and by the third century AD the chief exponent of this type of view was a Libyan Christian bishop called Arius.

The Catholic Church said Christ was of the same substance as the father, coeternal. No, no, said Arius, he couldn't be of the same substance; he was just similar; he was just a chap really; not homoousios, but homoiousios.

Arius spoke for everyone who has ever said that "Jesus was a really great guy and a great teacher, but I don't think he was really the biological son of God". He had many supporters, and the wrangle engulfed the Christian world until Constantine settled it rather incompetently at the Council of Nicaea in 325, and the doctrine of the Trinity was pronounced.
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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

I didn't know that

Biblical ignorance confession No. 1: I always thought the "mark of Cain" was a signal of disgrace, evidence of Cain's wickedness. But it's the opposite: The mark signals that Cain is under God's protection.
From David Plotz's Blogging the Bible.

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Unseemly speed

The in-depth review of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's asylum application seems to have been concluded with unusual alacrity. She is to be stripped of her Dutch nationality, according to this article.

It really does give the impression of getting rid of an awkward and unwelcome guest. An unpleasant sight, especially considering the person involved.

Will the US step into the breach? Is there an official status equivalent to that of the pariah? What a dangerous woman she must be!

Evidently, the situation was not as simple as I thought. The letter sent by Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk did not ipso facto revoke Ali's naturalisation. This is what seems to have come out of a seven-hour debate in the Dutch Parliament last night.

To the incredulity of much of the Second Chamber, Verdonk repeated several times she had not determined, but rather 'observed', Hirsi Ali's naturalisation was invalid. Hirsi Ali was given six weeks to respond with arguments to convince the Minister otherwise. If she fails to do so, she will lose her Dutch passport.

Verdonk almost floored her critics with shock when she suggested six hours into the debate that despite the invalid naturalisation, Hirsi Ali remains a Dutch citizen until the six-week appeal period expires.

The Minister explained the apparent contradiction of a person retaining a status she was allegedly never granted by referring back to her earlier assertion that her letter referred to a 'observation' rather than a decision on Hirsi Ali's naturalisation.
I think the best reaction is, "Mm, that's good. I think." In any case, two motions were voted through last night.
One calls on Verdonk to reconsider within six weeks whether Hirsi Ali is a Dutch citizen. The second instructs the Minister to grant Hirsi Ali accelerated naturalisation if she finds she is not a citizen of the Netherlands.
Perhaps I should take back what I was saying about the Netherlands. Or perhaps I should just wait.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Ayaan Hirsi Ali - resignation statement

Ayaan Hirsi Ali's statement announcing her resignation from Parliament and her decision to move to the US.
She states what she wanted to achieve by becoming an MP, what she believes she has achieved, and why she is now moving on. She gives her full name.

Ayaan Hirsi Magan Isse Guleid Ali Wai’ays Muhammad Ali Umar Osman Mahamud
She deals with the story of the 'willing' marriage.
The allegations that I willingly married my distant cousin, and was present at the wedding ceremony, are simply untrue. This man arrived in Nairobi from Canada, asked my father for one of his five daughters, and my father gave him me. I can assure you my father is not a man who takes no for an answer. Still, I refused to attend the formal ceremony, and I was married regardless. Then, on my way to Canada -- during a stopover in Germany -- I traveled to the Netherlands and asked for asylum here.
Finally, she speaks about the future.
I will continue to ask uncomfortable questions, despite the obvious resistance that they elicit. I feel that I should help other people to live in freedom, as many people have helped me. I personally have gone through a long and sometimes painful process of personal growth in this country. It began with learning to tell the truth to myself, and then the truth about myself: I strive now to also tell the truth about society as I see it.
Note "and then the truth about myself". In the present circumstances, how elegant!


Monday, May 15, 2006

Ayaan Hirsi Ali leaving Holland for the US

Ayaan Hirsi Ali has had enough. She's off.

Liberal party MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali is leaving the Dutch parliament in September and moving to the United States.

She is going to work for the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative Washington think tank. The institute was founded in 1943 and is seen as one of the most important advisors to the government of George Bush.
Reactions range from
"no loss for the Liberal Party (VVD)" - former VVD leader Hans Wiegel

"I celebrate that she is leaving the Netherlands. I hope that by her departure we can move forward with building a harmonious society." The Contact Organisation for Muslims and Government (CMO) secretary Nasr Joemman
To, on the other hand,
"The Netherlands complains all the time about grey politicians who don't dare speak their minds. Here we had someone who does and did that, and we were very negative about that. I think it says something about the state of the country: overly sensitive and provincial," - Former VVD parliamentary leader Jozias van Aartsen
From the International Herald Tribune:
She had been told, she said, that the minister in charge of immigration had ordered a review of how she obtained her citizenship and that it be revoked if necessary.

"If necessary I can take the death threats, the eviction, the many attacks on my character," she said. "But I cannot deal with the idea of losing my Dutch nationality."
Can't blame her really. The Dutch have obviously found her very uncomfortable to live with. As somebody said about Bismarck, "He says such awful things in such a soft voice." Awful and true.

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I came here to scream

Ian Buruma in the TimesOnline on that familiar perversity - the western intellectual singing hosannas to this month's anti-capitalist strong man. In this case, it's Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Obviously, Chavez is not in the same league as Castro, Stalin or Pol Pot, which must be a disappointment to his western toadies, but the pattern is the same ol'.

Buruma tells this story.

When the Cuban novelist Reinaldo Arenas managed to escape to the US in 1980, after years of persecution by the Cuban government for being openly homosexual and a dissident, he said: “The difference between the communist and capitalist systems is that, although both give you a kick in the ass, in the communist system you have to applaud, while in the capitalist system you can scream. And I came here to scream.”

Last year a number of journalists, writers and showbiz figures, including Harold Pinter, Nadine Gordimer, Harry Belafonte and Tariq Ali, signed a letter claiming that in Cuba “there has not been a single case of disappearance, torture or extra-judicial execution since 1959 . . .”
Arenas was arrested in 1973 for “ideological deviation”. He was tortured and locked up in prison cells filled with floodwater and excrement, and threatened with death if he didn’t renounce his own writing. Imagine what it must be like to be treated like this and then read about your fellow writers in the West standing up for your oppressors.
Baruma points out the obvious, as he needs to.
The common element of radical Third Worldism is an obsession with American power, as though the US were so intrinsically evil that any enemy of the US must be our friend, from Mao to Kim Jong-il, from Fidel Castro to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
(Via Harry's Place)

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Ayaan Hirsi Ali in more trouble

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is in more trouble in the Netherlands. You may remember that last month, a court ruled that her occupation of the current flat endangered the lives of others in the same block, and that therefore she should be evicted. Now a news programme called Zembla "has suggested" that she told lies to gain asylum in the Netherlands. In fact, she already fessed up, in 2002, but Zembla claims she told more than she admitted to then.

There seems to be some political capital to be garnered from these revelations, if true. The Immigration Minister, Rita Verdonk, is a hard-liner on immigration, and belongs to the same party, the Dutch Liberal Party (VVD), as Hirsi Ali. So it is an embarrassment that her fellow MP may have shafted the system.

The Dutch Expatica site (linked to above) is running a poll. The question is

Do you think any less of Somali-born MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali for lying about her past to get asylum in the Netherlands?
Of the 8820 votes cast when I looked, 98% of them did not.

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Saturday, May 13, 2006

A Body Was Given To Me

A lovely poem by Osip Mandelstam found at The Middle Stage.

A Body Was Given To Me

A body was given to me - what to do with it,
So unique and so much my own?

For the quiet joy of breathing and living,
Who is it, tell me, that I must thank?

I am the gardener, I am the flower as well,
In the dungeon of the world I am not alone.

On the glass of eternity has already settled
My breathing, my warmth.

A pattern prints itself on it,
Unrecognizable of late.

Let the lees of the moment trickle down -
The lovely pattern must not be wiped away.
What a beautiful and elegant way to state the paradox of consciousness: "I am the gardener, I am the flower as well".


The life-enhancing qualities of self-righteousness

What Ralph Waldo Emerson said about smoking is true.

The believing we do something when we do nothing is the first illusion of tobacco.
However, I would rather reflect on the character from a short story by John Cheever, who replaced his addiction to nicotine with one to self-righteousness.
Previously this man "had never had any occasion to experience self-righteousness"; but now he experienced "an involuntary urge to judge others - a sensation ... so unlike his customary point of view that he thought it exciting. He watched with emphatic disapproval a stranger light a cigarette on a street corner. The stranger plainly had no willpower. He was injuring his health, trimming his lifespan and betraying his dependents, who might suffer hunger and cold as a result of this self-indulgence. Now he walked up Fifth Avenue with his newly possessed virtuousness, looking neither at the sky nor at the pretty women but instead raking the population like a lieutenant of the vice squad employed to seek out malefactors. Oh there were so many!"
People need something to up arms about, something which puts them in the right, and allows them not only to look down on others, but condemn them. The tabloid newspapers are representative of their people in this, as in many other areas. Self-righteousness is intoxicating and addictive if for no other reason than that of the feelings of superiority to others that it induces and maintains. If its life-enhancing qualities could be tested and measured, I'm sure it would score very highly. I doubt it lengthens life, but it certainly seems to add to its enjoyment for so many.

Quotes taken from a review in The Australian of an exhibition devoted to "the visual culture of smoking in (mostly) Australian (mostly) 20th-century art".

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Hawke and Howard - Ordinary heroes

"In the last decade of the twentieth century, Australia became a model for other OECD countries,” wrote the 30-nation club of rich economies in its latest annual assessment of the country.
Go here to learn why.

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Biblically illiterate

Mark Steyn reviews The Da Vinci Code (well, the title and first sentence) and The Judas Gospel (well, the title and first sentence). In doing so, he reveals all on Dan Brown's use of the anarthrous occupational nominal premodifier and the footloose footnoting of the editors of The Judas Gospel. This latest earth-shattering publication he describes as

a fourth-century Coptic text by some guy, but it's believed to be pretty close to the original second-century Greek text. Okay, Judas wasn't around in the second century, but the fellows who wrote his "Gospel" likely got it from a friend of a friend of a friend of his. As Dr. Simon Gathercole of the University of Aberdeen told my old pal Dalya Alberge in the London Times, the alleged Gospel of Judas "contains a number of religious themes which are completely alien to the first-century world of Jesus and Judas, but which did become popular later, in the second century AD. An analogy would be finding a speech claiming to be written by Queen Victoria, in which she talked about The Lord Of The Rings and her CD collection."

And that would probably sell, too, if you put in a bit about how she was the love child of John the Baptist, but the Knights Templar covered it up until the manuscript was discovered at an Elks Lodge.

(via Ninme)

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Ahmadinejad's long game

Ahmadinejad has confirmed that his letter to Bush was not making any offers to negotiate about Iran's nuclear program.

Stressing that the letter was beyond the nuclear issue, the chief executive said that in principle, the country's nuclear case is not so significant to make him write a letter about it.

"We act according to laws and our activities are quite clear. We are rather intent on solving more fundamental global matters.

"The letter was an invitation to monotheism and justice, which are common to all divine prophets. If the call is responded positively, there will be no more problems to be solved," added the president. The president said that the letter actually contained a clear message of invitation to human beliefs, adding that its response will determine the future.
So, it was not about nukes; it involved something "more fundamental". And the response may mean that "there will be no more problems to be solved", or will, in any case, "determine the future". Is it, therefore, a dawa, a prelude to war, as I speculated the other day? Dinocrat and Robert Spencer lean this way. My problem with that interpretation is that, though I can't dismiss it, equally I can't conceive of how the Iranians could threaten anything truly serious, either to the United States, or even to Israel, the subject of most of his direct threats. For example, this one

“Like it or not, the Zionist regime is heading toward annihilation,” Ahmadinejad said at the opening of a conference in support of the Palestinians. “The Zionist regime is a rotten, dried tree that will be eliminated by one storm.”
Are we to assume that Iran is capable of mounting such an attack? Much as they would like to, that would involve a capability beyond what any obervers attribute to them. A storm of terrorist attacks is certainly conceivable, though none of the players (Iranian-backed or otherwise) seem to be able to do this at the moment. A strategic aim that he hints at several times is that of separating Israel from its Western support.

Referring to the concern expressed by western countries over his remarks about Israel, he said he was merely stating the truth, and urged countries who were threatened by his remarks to end their support for the cruel regime and see what would happen.
The letter may well be one step towards this goal rather than the prelude to a direct attack. Amir Taheri points to a tradition of letter writing started, of course, by Muhammad, and continued by the caliphs and by Khomeini in 1987. This last letter, to Gorbachev, was merely to refuse to help in Afghanistan, though the refusal was motivated by the Russians' un-Islamic ways and accompanied by the usual call to convert. The call was not underlined by a threat to attack.

I cannot come to any conclusion about this, other than the need to take the letter seriously in at least this sense: it is part of a long game, one that may lead to war, or to humiliation for either side. No scenario can be dismissed; all should be considered.

(via Dinocrat)

Then, of course, there is this.

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Iraq Index

The latest Iraq Index from the Brookings Institution is out. I notice that it's received the usual splash from the mass media. There's a summary here.

A selection.

Crude oil production reached 2.14 million barrels a day (MBD) in April of this year. It had dropped to 0.3 MBD in May of 2003.

Revenues from oil export have only slightly increased from pre-war levels of $0.2 billion, to $0.62 billion in April.

Electrical output is almost at the pre-war level of 3,958 megawatts. April's production was 3,600 megawatts. In May of 2003, production was only 500 megawatts.

The breakdown of foreign terrorists by country of origin is interesting. The largest number come from Algeria, at 20%. The next two countries are Syria and Yemen, at 18% and 17%, respectively.
(via Instapundit)


When do we want it? Now!

I stole these quotes from an article on Robespierre by John Kekes in City Journal. He argues that Robepierre is the prototype of the ideologue in power, the revolutionary with a state in which to realise his vision. His descendents include Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot.

The following are all from his speeches. Note the lietmotifs that are to be repeated from then down to our day

The task of the Revolution was “to establish the felicity of perhaps the entire human race.”
This is the future.
“The French people seems to have out-distanced the rest of the human race by two thousand years.”
Call it good and evil; call it class war; call it Darul Harb (land of war) and Darul Islam (land of Islam); call it virtue and vice.
“Two opposing spirits . . . [are] contending for domination . . . [and] are fighting it out in this great epoch of human history, to determine for ever the destinies of the world. France is the theater of this terrible combat [which is] merely the struggle between private interests and the general interest, between cupidity and ambition on the one hand and justice and humanity on the other.”
What cannot be justified if it brings about the society of Virtue?
Commenting on an execution, he said: “Even if he had been innocent he had to be condemned if his death could be useful.”
Burning conviction.
“There do exist pure and sensitive souls. There does exist a tender, but imperious and irresistible passion . . . a profound horror of tyranny, a compassionate zeal for the oppressed, a sacred love of one’s country, and a love of humanity still more holy and sublime, without which a great revolution is no more than the destruction of a lesser by a greater crime. There does exist a generous ambition to found on earth the first republic in the world. . . . You can feel it, at this moment, burning in your hearts; I can feel it in my own.”
These are some of the principles for the achievement of which the Terror came into being.
Article 1. The object of every political association is to safeguard the natural and imprescriptible rights of men.
Article 3. . . . rights belong equally to all men, whatever their physical and moral differences. Article 4. Freedom is the right of every man to exercise all his faculties at will. Its rule is justice, its limits are the rights of others, its source is nature, its guarantee is the law.
Article 6. Any law which violates the imprescriptible rights of man is essentially unjust and tyrannical.
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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Warn them, and then ...

In an interview published in The Atlantic Online (this is probably available only to subscribers), CIA officer Michael Scheuer, author of Imperial Hubris, had this to say about taking seriously the pronouncements of prominent Muslims.

After the 9/11 attacks bin Laden was accused of three things by Muslims: one, not giving us enough warning; two, not allowing us to convert; and three, killing too many people, because he didn't have religious justification for it. Since 9/11, he's dealt with the first criticism by warning us in many different venues, many different times. And al-Zawahiri has done the same thing publicly. So when the next attack comes there's no way for us to say we weren't warned. As for the second criticism, the prophet Muhammad said that before you attack anyone you must always give them a chance to convert to Islam, the one true faith. Bin Laden's offer to President Bush to lead us to Islam satisfies that. To address the third criticism, he procured from a very prominent Saudi cleric a religious justification for using weapons of mass destruction against the United States. So massive casualties now are sanctioned by a religious edict. Now this all sounds silly from the secular American viewpoint. But from the Muslim viewpoint he has checked the three boxes that have been established in Islamic history—through the Koran, and through the sayings of the prophet—to stage a very big attack on the United States. He's warned us, he's given us a chance to convert, and he has religious guidance that says an attack causing large numbers of casualties is okay.
Obviously, Osama bin Laden is a very upright gentleman, one that follows the rules of orderly combat. Is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as upright a gentleman? It may well be that he is, and that he is pedantically following the regulations laid down by someone or other. So he writes his letter to Bush, gets carried away a bit (but you do when you're a believer) and finishes up with half a book. Is he sanctioned to do the deed? It seems so. According to a report quoted on Regime Change Iran, Mohsen Gharavian said
When the entire world is armed with nuclear weapons, it is permissible to use these weapons as a counter-measure. According to Sharia too, only the goal is important.
Mohsen Gharavian is "a disciple of the ultra-conservative Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi, who is widely regarded as the cleric closest to Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."

So should we get ready to duck? Robert Spencer is cautious.
This letter could be -- but is not necessarily -- a prelude to an attack.
I call that a reason for optimism.

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The China Bubble

I remember reading a post on Samizdata quite some time ago whose basic message was the following: the Chinese banking system is extremely corrupt and just as delicate; what we are witnessing now is the Chinese Bubble, and it will soon burst.

A report from Ernst & Young covered in The Autralian says the situation is worse than previously thought.

According to Ernst & Young, the accounting firm, bad loans in the Chinese financial system have reached a staggering $US911 billion, including $US225 billion in potential future NPLs in the four largest state-owned banks.

This equals 40 per cent of gross domestic product and China has already spent the equivalent of 25-30 per cent of GDP in previous bank bail-outs.
(NPL = Non-Performing Loan - a bad loan.)

Of course, reform is unlikely in a one-party state because the main losers would be ... the one party.
Systemic economic waste, bank lending practices, political patronage and the survival of a one-party state are inseparably intertwined in China. The party can no longer secure the loyalty of its 70 million members through ideological indoctrination; instead, it uses material perks and careers in government and state-owned enterprises (SOEs). That is why, after nearly 30 years of economic reform, the state still owns 56 per cent of the fixed capital stock. The unreformed core of the economy is the base of political patronage.

Government figures show that, in 2003, 5.3 million party officials held executive positions in SOEs. The party appoints about 80 per cent of the chief executives in SOEs and 56 per cent of all senior corporate executives. Recent corporate governance reforms, Western-style on paper but not in substance, have made no difference. At 70 per cent of the large and medium-sized SOEs ostensibly restructured into Western-style companies, members of party committees were appointed to the boards. Painful restructuring appears to have spared this elite. China has shed more than 30 million industrial jobs since the late 1990s but few party officials have become jobless.

(via Dinocrat)

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Ayaan Hirsi Ali (cont)

Christopher Hitchens on the judicial expulsion of Ayaan Hirshi Ali from her protected flat. (See this post.) He concludes

In these circumstances, she is considering resigning from parliament and perhaps leaving her adopted country altogether. This is not the only example that I know of a supposedly liberal society collaborating in its own destruction, but I hope at least that it will shame us all into making The Caged Virgin a best seller.
In another interview, she points to one of the unintended consequences of the welfare state.
In part, says Hirsi Ali, the problem is economic. Europe’s regulated economies prevent immigrants from working their way up the economic ladder. “In the United States,” she says, “an immigrant can start a nail shop, and save money. In the Netherlands, you need a diploma to open a nail shop and you must navigate 1,001 rules and regulations. So migrants go on welfare, which kills your dignity and makes you resentful.”
I remember a young Lebanese man working in a London hotel with whom I had several long conversations. Articulate, hard-working and ambitious, he looked forward to being able to return to his home country and was very lonely in London. But weren't there many Lebanese there, I asked. Yes, but he didn't get on with them. "They take money off the government, and then they swear about government and all the people of this country. They say the government owes them this money." "Why does it owe them money?" "Because the West is corrupt and imperialistic. They lie about their incomes because it's their right, they say. I don't like them."

On tolerance.
Hirsi Ali also blames Europe's immigrant problem on concepts of European tolerance that have gone too far. Memories of the Holocaust made Europeans especially sensitive to the stigmatization of any group. "We never want to draw distinctions between us and the other," says Hirsi Ali, "but in the process we went overboard. For example, we don't register the number of honor killings [in Muslim communities], because we don't want to stigmatize any group. We don't keep records of [immigrants by] ethnicity or religion."

... For her the issue is clear -- Europeans value free speech and separation of church and state, and immigrants must learn to accept those values if they want to be part of their adopted country. That is the line she wants Europeans to draw.

(via Hot Air)

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Except for Hitler

Norm's guest, Jeff Abramowitz, praises Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minster,

[which] in the form of Jim Hacker's diaries [have] taught me more about the art of politics than any political science course I ever signed up for.
He mentions Sir Humphrey's explanation of the likely reaction to a scheme to introduce the new European Identity Card:
The Germans will love it, the French will ignore it, the Italians and Irish will be too chaotic to enforce it. Only the British will resent it.
This, in turn, reminded me of Sir Humphrey's explanation of some European award, a couple of sentences that constitute the perfect commentary on English attitudes to Europe.
It's an occasional award to the person who's done most to encourage European unity. Except for Hitler, of course.
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Monday, May 08, 2006

Interview with Ayaan Hirshi Ali.

Little Green Footballs has an interview from Norwegian TV with Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

It's nice when the impression you've built in your head from text is confirmed by video and audio. She speaks beautifully and holds herself with great poise and dignity. A very impressive woman.

(via Ninme)

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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Chick No 5 is here

Peregrine Falcon in Harrisburg
It seems that the fifth chick has been born, though we can't be sure. There's no sign of the egg, in any case. There are, however, the many remains of ex-birds that have now become sustenence for the growing chicks.

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Saturday, May 06, 2006

The quiet American - Varian Fry

Marseilles, 1940
In fact, even those who were fortunate enough to secure visas for entry into other countries found that the French restricted their departure. Usually,French authorities refused to give them the exit visas that made departure legal Even if a refugee received a scarce French exit visa, he usually had to go to the Spanish and Portuguese consulates in or around Marseilles to secure transit visas allowing travel through those countries. This task was difficult because safe conduct passes were required just to travel around France. More often than not, by the time one set of papers was in order another expired. The likelihood of a full set of papers being updated to coordinate with transportation was almost nil.
I had always thought that the burocratic entanglement that frames the plot of Casablanca was pure fantasy. Wrong again. You had to have a visa to leave the country!

However, that is secondary. The paragraph above is taken from a brief history of one Varian Fry, 32 years old in 1940, Harvard classics graduate, emmisary of a private American relief organization sent with $3,000 to rescue as many people as he could. He had been asked to go there for a month; he stayed over a year and 1,500 people, among them Marc Chagall, Max Ernst and Hannah Arendt, lived to thank him.

No-one else did. He had to deal not only with the French, but also with the diplomatic staff the United States consulate, who obtructed him at every turn. Fry, who was obviously a determined sort of cove, merely acquired new skills; he "set up secret escape routes, changed money on the black-market, conspired with gangsters, forged documents, chartered ships that sailed illegally".

He never received any recognition from his own country for what he had done, though in 1967 he received the Croix de Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor, and is the only American honored at Yad Vashem. His book about his time in Marseilles is called Surrender on Demand, and there are several accounts of his adventures.

(via Rogue Classicism)

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Friday, May 05, 2006

Cardinal George Pell on Islam

Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, made a speech to the Legatus Summit, Naples, Florida on the 2nd of February, which has only now been put on the diocesan website. The speech is entitled 'Islam and Western Democracies', and is a wide-ranging overview of Islamic history and theology and our capacity to react to it.

Pell is no softly-spoken diplomat. For example,

In my own reading of the Koran, I began to note down invocations to violence. There are so many of them, however, that I abandoned this exercise after 50 or 60 or 70 pages.
He is not soft on the West, either, though here his points are those you'd expect from a man of the church.
Western secularists regularly have trouble understanding religious faith in their own societies, and are often at sea when it comes to addressing the meaninglessness that secularism spawns. An anorexic vision of democracy and the human person is no match for Islam.
A powerful sentence that last one.

I'm not going to attempt a summary of Pell's speech. I'd just like to note two pieces of information that help to explain a lot. The first regards the binary attribute, 'religion of peace/war'. Defenders of both camps seem to be armed with large stocks of suras. There's a good reason for this.
It is important to bear in mind what the scholars tell us about the difference between the suras (or chapters) of the Koran written during Muhammad’s thirteen years in Mecca, and those that were written after he had based himself at Medina. Irenic interpretations of the Koran typically draw heavily on the suras written in Mecca, when Muhammad was without military power and still hoped to win people, including Christians and Jews, to his revelation through preaching and religious activity. After emigrating to Medina, Muhammad formed an alliance with two Yemeni tribes and the spread of Islam through conquest and coercion began. One calculation is that Muhammad engaged in 78 battles, only one of which, the Battle of the Ditch, was defensive. The suras from the Medina period reflect this decisive change and are often held to abrogate suras from the Meccan period.
[By the way, 'irenic' means conducive to peace. I had to look it up, too.] Isn't that interesting, and utterly credible. When you are weak, you persuade; when you are strong, you command. Simple, and as old as Adam.

And then there's this.
In 2004 a scholar who writes under the pseudonym Christoph Luxenberg published a book in German setting out detailed evidence that the original language of the Koran was a dialect of Aramaic known as Syriac. Syriac or Syro-Aramaic was the written language of the Near East during Muhammad’s time, and Arabic did not assume written form until 150 years after his death. Luxenberg argues that the Koran that has come down to us in Arabic is partially a mistranscription of the original Syriac. A bizarre example he offers which received some attention at the time his book was published is the Koran’s promise that those who enter heaven will be “espoused” to “maidens with eyes like gazelles”; eyes, that is, which are intensely white and black (suras 4454 and 5220). Luxenberg’s meticulous analysis suggests that the Arabic word for maidens is in fact a mistranscription of the Syriac word for grapes. This does strain common sense. Valiant strivings to be consoled by beautiful women is one thing, but to be heroic for a packet of raisins seems a bit much!
Did you clock that? "Arabic did not assume written form until 150 years after his death." By which time, the Arab Empire was just short of Spain in the west and reached to Persia in the east. No wonder nobody can go to town (hermeneutically speaking) on the Koran without risking decapitation. We are speaking here of 2 translations: from Arabic into Syriac, and then several generations later, back from Syriac into Arabic. Since no Syriac version survives, the book is more removed from its source than the New Testament is. As a field for textual exploration and disruption, it is wide open (save for the decapitation).

Even more explosively, Luxenberg suggests that the Koran has its basis in the texts of the Syriac Christian liturgy, and in particular in the Syriac lectionary, which provides the origin for the Arabic word “koran”. As one scholarly review observes, if Luxenberg is correct the writers who transcribed the Koran into Arabic from Syriac a century and a half after Muhammad’s death transformed it from a text that was “more or less harmonious with the New Testament and Syriac Christian liturgy and literature to one that [was] distinct, of independent origin”.
Do you get the impression of a culture in aspic, kept hermetically sealed? The scholarly interrogation that Christianity was put through in the 19th century has barely begun with Islam. It seems about time.

(via Dinocrat)

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